William & Mary

Schroeder Center for Health Policy Undergraduate Research Assistant Program


 PROJECTS AND APPLICATION PROCEDURES FOR STUDENTS


The Schroeder Center for Health Policy invites undergraduate students to apply for part-time research assistant positions for the Fall 2015 semester.  Students will be paid $8.50/hour.  Below are descriptions of the three projects, application procedures, and the part-time hours of either 5 or 10 hours/week.  In all cases, applications will be accepted until the positions are filled, but the deadline for applying to the appropriate faculty member is Tuesday, September 15, 2015 at noon.


PROJECT #1:  Evaluating the Efficacy of Public Health Initiatives
Supervising Faculty Advisor: Dr. Brian Beach, Economics
Maximum work hours:  10 hours/week

Project Description

The goal of this project is to digitize annual mortality statistics from 1900 to 1960. The research assistant will be responsible for downloading annual mortality statistic reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website and creating separate excel templates for each table within those reports. The primary tables of interest are: cause of death (with 35 unique causes), deaths by age, and deaths by race. Data are reported at the state and city-level, which is why each PDF is roughly 700 pages long. The research assistant’s efforts will help in understanding how the tables evolve over time. Once this initial task is complete, Dr. Beach will work with the research assistant to explain how economists evaluate the efficacy of public health initiatives. For example, scarlet fever and tuberculosis (two reported causes of death) were ultimately eliminated once cities began pasteurizing their milk. Because cities pasteurized their milk at different times, we can use that variation to identify the efficacy of pasteurization for eliminating milk-borne diseases, the subsequent impact on infant mortality, and how declines in infant mortality and disease exposure affected adult outcomes. The research assistant's final task will be to research the history of each cause of death and hopefully identify an individual research project that he/she could work on in the future.

Health Policy Implications

Many researchers have transcribed specific portions of these tables, but a comprehensive dataset does not exist. The goal of this project is to produce a comprehensive and publicly available dataset. One immediate research goal is to evaluate public health initiatives from the twentieth century. Dr. Beach is also interested in quantifying the presence of disease externalities and understanding how transportation innovations affected the spread of disease. At a more basic level, he hopes to understand whether we should trust these data by asking whether reporting was consistent across cities and years as well as by identifying areas of misdiagnosis.

Application Procedures

Applications for this project will be accepted until noon on Tuesday, September 15, 2015.  If you are interested in applying for this research assistant position, please send an email to Dr. Brian Beach (bbbeach@wm.edu) and include the following:

1) Your name, major, and year of graduation,
2) A short letter of interest in the project, and
3) An unofficial transcript.


PROJECT #2:  Assessing the Ability of Mandatory Testing to Control the Spread of Disease
Supervising Faculty Advisor: Dr. John Parman, Economics
Maximum work hours:  5 hours/week

Project Description

In response to rising syphilis rates, many states passed premarital blood test laws in the 1930s and 1940s requiring individuals to be tested for and, if infected, treated for syphilis prior to marriage.  The goal was to reduce syphilis among adults and eliminate the transmission of syphilis from mothers to children.  These laws altered the economics of marriage, increasing the costs of obtaining a marriage license and eliminating informational asymmetries between partners about disease, potentially changing marriage and fertility decisions.  This project exploits variation in the timing and scope of these laws to examine their impact on marriage rates, birth rates, and syphilis morbidity rates among adults and infants.

Dr. Parman has collected information on the laws passed prior to 1949.  The research assistant will expand this dataset by identifying state laws passed after 1949 and coding the provisions of those laws following the scheme used for the pre-1949 laws.  The research assistant will also research news accounts of these laws to assess the public sentiment about their passage and their effectiveness.  Finally, the research assistant will assist with transcribing historical data on syphilis mortality and morbidity rates. 

Health Policy Implications

These premarital blood test laws were a deliberate effort to use state laws to promote public health goals, essentially mandating that individuals with syphilis seek medical treatment to control the spread of the disease.  Debates surrounding these laws are similar to modern debates surrounding mandatory HIV testing and prenatal blood tests.  This study will assess the ability of mandatory testing to control the spread of disease.  Preliminary results suggest that overall syphilis rates fell with the passage of these laws but illegitimate birth rates rose, undermining the goal of preventing syphilis transmission from mothers to children.  Exploring these intended and unintended effects further will reveal the limits of mandatory testing as a public health tool.

Application Procedures

Applications for this project will be accepted until noon on Tuesday, September 15, 2015.  If you are interested in applying for this research assistant position, please send an email to Dr. John Parman (jmparman@wm.edu) and include the following:

1) Your name, major, and year of graduation,
2) A short letter of interest in the project, and
3) An unofficial transcript.

PROJECT #3: Cardiac Patients at Sentara Heart Hospital – Assessment of Post Discharge Care and Costs/Quality Outcomes Related to This Care
Supervising Faculty Advisor: Dr. Chon Abraham, Mason School of Business
Maximum work hours:  5 hours/week

Project Description

The traditional model of healthcare delivery by placing large hospitals at/near the geographic center of a population will no longer be sufficient as care moves from inpatient to outpatient (Hersh et al., 2013). Innovations in the payment models such as Value-based purchasing, pay-for-performance incentives, and penalties are translating to hospitals needing to track patients as they move from the community to the hospital and back into the community since hospitals now share the financial risk for 30-day readmissions and deaths (Hersh et al., 2013). This research will use IBM cognitive intelligence based tools, such as Watson Analytics and geospatial analytics, to assess how to better plan care post discharge for cardiac patients of Sentara Heart Hospital and to assess costs and quality outcomes associated with this care. Twenty-first century healthcare requires twenty-first century healthcare personnel from analysts to executives to make more informed decisions about quality and economical health services delivery in a patient centric manner. Specifically, clinicians and administrators need insight on coordination of services and factors that impact the patient’s ability to be compliant with prescribed regimen that would decrease the likelihood of an emergent event or readmission.  The factors could be the proximity of services closest to the patient’s residence (or a community-based location) and healthy food sources; public transportation resources; home, rehabilitation, and ambulatory care services. 

The research assistant on this project will complete the following: 

  • Provide a literature review related to coordinating care and community-based services for cardiac patients
  • Aid in developing a survey to administer to patients about the needs, inhibitors, and facilitators to them remaining compliant with regimen
  • Some analysis of data using Watson Analytics and geospatial analytics that will detect patterns in costs and quality for services external to the hospital. (NOTE:  The research assistant on this project will be given access to training/tutorial materials for the tools.)

Reference: Hersh, A., Masoudi, F., Allen, L. (2013) Post-discharge Environment Following Heart Failure Hospitalization: Expanding the View of Hospital Readmission. Journal of American Heart Association, 2(2), pp.1-14.

Health Policy Implications

This research has the potential to provide insight for best practices for employing patient centric care plans that could extend beyond just cardiac patients such as patients in palliative care programs. Insight for costs and quality variations of referral based outpatient services can aid clinicians and administrators in improving quality and cost outcomes by differentiating referral services and capitalizing on public or other beneficial resources in proximity to the patient.

Application Procedures

Applications for this project will be accepted until noon on Tuesday, September 15, 2015.  If you are interested in applying for this research assistant position, please send an email to Dr. Chon Abraham (Chon.Abraham@mason.wm.edu) and include the following:

1) Your name, major, and year of graduation,
2) A short letter of interest in the project, and
3) An unofficial transcript. 

 

Funding Opportunities for Spring 2016

The Schroeder Center will announce undergraduate research assistant opportunities for the Spring 2016 semester in January 2016.  Please return to this site for additional information at that time.

For a full listing of undergraduate research assistants in previous academic years, click here.